Written by: Deniz Bayrakeri
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Andrelton Simmons has a reputation for being an illustrious defender throughout his career. However, he has become quite the underrated player, as his defensive prowess wasted away with below-average Angels teams for the last half-decade.
Defensive Excellence In Numbers
While the mainstream media tends to focus on other brilliant shortstops like Javier Báez and Carlos Correa, Simmons has quietly obliterated the competition in both DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating).
Comparing Andrelton Simmons to other shortstops from 2002 onwards, we can see that he is far superior to his peers. Keep in mind, these are cumulative stats, so playing longer is key to accruing good numbers.
When looking at UZR, Jimmy Rollins and J.J. Hardy place firmly below Simmons, despite having 8,000 and 4,500 more innings at shortstop respectively. As he enters just his 10th season, it is safe to assume that Simmons will create an enormous gap from his peers, cementing himself as number one in UZR.
Seeing such a sizable difference between the rankings might raise some eyebrows. But, with unbelievable plays such as below, its easy to tell he is different. Andrelton Simmons is able to cover ground with phenomenal range and turn hits into outs consistently with his plus arm, contributing to his elite defensive numbers.
Now let’s take a look at Simmons compared to all other shortstops in league history. To compare with players who played before the creation of DRS in 2003, we will use Total Zone (TZ) mixed with DRS to compensate for the lack of the statistic and provide a more accurate analysis of defensive value across the years.
In the chart above, five of the listed players have made it to the hall of fame, with the only player above Simmons being the legend Ozzie Smith. Andrelton Simmons currently places third in league history among shortstops, and could very well make it to the top in the next few seasons.
When it comes to single-season UZR and DRS metrics, Simmons is in a class of his own. The 31-year-old currently holds 3 finishes in the top 10 for UZR single-season records and 4 in the top 10 for DRS, including the number 1 season in 2013.
Additionally, Simmons has carved a top rank for himself among shortstops in Statcast’s OAA (Outs Above Average):
Since the statistic’s creation in 2017, Simmons ranks second among all shortstops in OAA with 43. If not for two injury-shortened seasons from 2019-2020, Simmons would undoubtedly be the king of this defensive metric as well.
This extreme gap in defensive metrics has separated Simmons’ value from all shortstops in the game today, despite the fact his offense is barely league average. He peaked as a 7.8 bWAR player in 2017 and followed it up in 2018 with a 6.3 season. FanGraphs calculates Simmons’ career WAR at 25.6, while Baseball-Reference’s bWAR values him at 36.7, putting the defensive wizard on pace to surpass several current hall of fame shortstops after only 9 seasons in the major leagues.
Even though Andrelton Simmons is not an elite offensive player, he still can put up respectable triple slash lines as shown by his 2012-2018 seasons:
Beyond the metrics, he is one of baseball’s most entertaining and unique players. Not only is he capable of freak web gems but he also routinely makes plays that show off his ridiculously high awareness and baseball IQ like below:
Not only did he display strong mental awareness by positioning himself perfectly for the cut-off man, but Simmons also threw an absolute rocket to the catcher with accurate precision, beating the runner by a mile when in most cases he scores without a throw. These kinds of plays separate Simmons defensively from the rest of the pack, but they also make him a great role model for younger players. Others can learn from his defensive aptitude and focus, making him a natural leader in that regard.
Is Simmons’ Value Fading?
Due to a severe ankle injury in 2019, Simmons has not been the same player as of recent. He played only 103 games in 2019 by spending much time on the IL in stints caused by left ankle troubles. His ankle flared up again this season, causing him to go on the IL in the opening week. Andrelton Simmons eventually opted out of the season in late September and ended up with just 30 games played.
The past two injury-hampered seasons have certainly cost Simmons a place among the top shortstops in today’s rankings. In the last two seasons, Simmons has totaled just 10 DRS. Prior to 2019, the lowest two-season DRS total of his career was 49. Talk about a step-down.
To make matters worse, Simmons has slowed down noticeably over the last few seasons. According to Statcast, his sprint speed has fallen from the 62nd percentile in 2017 to 54th in 2018, to 38th in 2019, and 32nd in 2020. While Simmons owns steady, quick hands, a rocket arm, and high situational awareness, the decline in speed along with the reoccurring ankle problems raise questions about a potential loss of athleticism and health.
On top of these concerns, Simmons remains a pedestrian offensive threat. With the trend of hitting going in the direction of home run hitters, most evaluators tend to focus on power predictive metrics such as exit velocity and hard hit %. As we can see in the below chart, Simmons is on the other end of the spectrum of today’s hitting, trading away power to consistently put the ball in play. Situational and contact hitters are certainly important for a major league club. However, these traits are not as sought after in comparison to the past.
This recent trend does not bode well for Simmons’ contract hopes. In his last full season (2018), Simmons’ percentile ranks for key power metrics were putrid: 17th xISO, 38th xSLG, 35th BRL, 20th BRL%, 38th Exit Velocity, and 42nd Hard Hit %. He clearly is the antithesis of what teams look for in hitters today. Along with the recent injury concerns, it could be difficult for Simmons to secure a large pay day.
Another factor against Andrelton Simmons is the shortstop crowded free-agent class in 2021. In the current free-agent market, the only other significant shortstops are Marcus Semien and Didi Gregorius. As a result, many teams could save money and target the 2021 offseason to fill their lineup gap with elite shortstops such as Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Trevor Story Javier Báez, and Carlos Correa on track to become free agents.
Could Simmons be available on a shorter deal? Coming off his worst two seasons coupled with being ranked a negative defender for the first time in his career in 2020, Simmons could opt for a one year deal to prove he’s healthy and able to be a defensive stalwart again. Regardless, shortstop is a significantly important defensive position, and most teams could use a guy like Simmons for his presence in the clubhouse alone.
The Road To Redemption
Andrelton Simmons could follow the same track as fellow shortstop free-agent Didi Gregorius did a year ago and sign a one-year deal. Prior to 2020, Gregorius found himself in a similar situation to Simmons: an above-average player with a future clouded by injury problems in a contract year. Betting on himself worked, as Gregorius returned to form in 2020 and is projected to land a lucrative contract this winter. This result could prove to be the same for Simmons if he is able to regain his health and restore his defensive production for a season. Let’s take a look at which destinations make the most sense for the former Platinum glove winner.
The Brewers were rough from a defensive standpoint, with their two middle infielders being the lowest on the team in DRS (SS Orlando Arcia -5, 2B Keston Hiura -8). Orlando Arcia is still only 26 years old and arbitration-eligible until 2023. However, he has not met expectations for a contending club that needs better production from the shortstop position. It would be wise of the Brewers to seek an upgrade.
The Brewers could have a few options if they decide to sign Simmons. They could either let Simmons compensate for Hiura’s issues at 2nd and let Urias be in a pure utility role, or they could bump Hiura down a spot on the defensive spectrum and let Urias take over 2nd. This signing would give them some time to see if prospect Bryce Turang develops, but also would let them move on from Arcia.
With upcoming free agents coming off the books freeing up ~$26 million, the Brewers should have a decent amount of money to spend. Just two seasons ago, the Brewers’ payroll was up to ~$136 million. Currently, the team has roughly $80 million in guaranteed contracts for 2021, so there is reason to believe they could be buyers in this market.
The Brewers could offer Simmons a 2-year contract, with the second year including a player option attached in case Simmons wants to test 2022’s free agency instead of the star-studded 2021 class. For Milwuakee, they would immediately upgrade at SS and have a proven leader in the infield. Additionally, the 2 years would give more development time for Urias, Hiura, and top prospect Turang who would be closer to MLB ready by the end of the contract.
The contract offer could look like $24 million/2 years ($12m AAV) with bonuses attached for 450 plate appearances and gold glove finalist, giving him the opportunity to prove his health and defense are still alive.
While the Tigers improved defensively in 2020, the team still lacks a veteran presence in the middle infield. This question mark depends on how committed Al Avila and AJ Hinch are to young Willi Castro as a shortstop.
Castro was a solid hitter in 36 games in 2020 with a .349/.381/.552 slash line. While it is a small sample size, he showed promise offensively. It was on the defensive side where the growing pains were obvious. Some believe that Castro’s best fit might be at second base. Still, Castro playing some time at short would help develop him into a better all around player. Having Simmons there to show him the ropes of what it takes to be elite would definitely benefit his growth.
Simmons would be an upgrade to a defense that will be behind a very young and inexperienced Tigers pitching staff. A good way to help protect and instill confidence in the young arms is to invest in a defensive presence behind them. If Simmons gets past his injury concerns and plays at even half the level he was at before, Detroit’s young pitchers would benefit tremendously.
Should Simmons play well and Detroit is selling, contenders could look to acquire him at the trade deadline. A rebuilding team such as the Tigers could always use a valuable trade piece to improve the farm system.
Tigers have some wiggle room financially should they choose to invest in Simmons. Their 2021 salary commitment is about $54 million, a steep decrease from 2019’s $114 million payroll. In case the Tigers need to bid for Simmons’ services, they could easily up the ante.
A projection for the contract offer would be $27 million/2 years ($13.5m AAV). The second year includes a player option to give Simmons some flexibility.
The Phillies are going into the offseason with some of their key players heading into free agency. With JT Realmuto being the top priority, the Phillies might end up letting Didi walk. Of the big three veteran shortstops on the market this winter, Gregorius clearly had the best season, setting him up for a big pay day. If Philly opts to go a different route due to price, Andrelton Simmons could be an option.
Didi and Segura were both below-average defenders in 2020, posting -2 and -1 DRS respectively. The team lacks SS depth in its farm system and finding a viable replacement from within might prove difficult. Adding a player of Simmons’ caliber for a few seasons would go a long way to helping these issues.
Philadelphia’s top shortstop prospect Bryson Scott is still 2 years away from making the majors. Signing Simmons to a multi-year deal would allow Scott to develop smoothly in the minors. Once he’s up, he’d have an impressive mentor in Simmons helping him grow at the position.
The signing would also help the team’s defense in keeping Jean Segura at second or third base.
The Phillies could offer Simmons a contract of around $33 million/3 years ($11m AAV), giving Simmons some financial safety. A
Despite the last couple of injury riddled seasons, Simmons remains one of the most exciting and valuable players in baseball. It is not every year that a player with hall of fame defensive capabilities is available on the open market. Any team that takes a chance on Simmons would be getting a nice ballplayer on a great bargain.
All data sourced from fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com, fieldingbible.com, spotrac.com and baseballsavant.mlb.com.